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The Poetic Edda is the modern name for an untitled collection of Old Norse anonymous poems, which is distinct from the Prose Edda written by Snorri Sturluson. Several versions exist, all primarily of text from the Icelandic medieval manuscript known as the Codex Regius , which contains 31 poems.The Codex Regius is arguably the most important extant source on Norse mythology and Germanic heroic legends. From the early-19th century onwards it has had a powerful influence on later Scandinavian literatures - not only through its stories, but also through the visionary force and the dramatic quality of many of the poems. It has also become an inspiring model for many later innovations in poetic meter, particularly in Nordic languages, offering many varied examples of terse, stress-based metrical schemes that lack any final rhyme but instead use alliterative devices and strongly-concentrated imagery. Poets who have acknowledged their debt to the Codex Regius include Vilhelm Ekelund, August Strindberg, J. R. R. Tolkien, Ezra Pound, Jorge Luis Borges, and Karin Boye.
Codex Regius was written during the 13th century, but nothing was known of its whereabouts until 1643, when it came into the possession of Brynjólfur Sveinsson, then Bishop of Skálholt. At the time, versions of the Edda were known in Iceland, but scholars speculated that there once was another Edda, an Elder Edda, which contained the pagan poems that Snorri quotes in his Edda. When Codex Regius was discovered, it seemed that the speculation had proved correct, but modern scholarly research has shown that the Edda was likely written first and that the two were, at most, connected by a common source.
Brynjólfur attributed the manuscript to Sæmundr the Learned, a larger-than-life 12th century Icelandic priest. Modern scholars reject that attribution, but the name Sæmundar Edda is still sometimes associated with both the "Codex Regius" and versions of "Poetic Edda" using it as a source.
Bishop Brynjólfur sent Codex Regius as a present to the Danish king - hence the name given to the codex: Latin : codex regius, lit. 'royal book'. For centuries it was stored in the Royal Library in Copenhagen, but in 1971 it was returned to Iceland. Because air travel at the time was not entirely trustworthy with such precious cargo, it was transported by ship, accompanied by a naval escort.
The Eddic poems are composed in alliterative verse. Most are in fornyrðislag , while málaháttr is a common variation. The rest, about a quarter, are composed in ljóðaháttr . The language of the poems is usually clear and relatively unadorned. Kennings are often employed, though they do not arise as frequently, nor are they as complex, as those found in skaldic poetry.
Like most early poetry, the Eddic poems were minstrel poems, passed orally from singer to singer and from poet to poet for centuries. None of the poems are attributed to a particular author, though many of them show strong individual characteristics and are likely to have been the work of individual poets. While scholars have speculated on hypothetical authors, firm and accepted conclusions have never been reached.
Accurate dating of the poems has long been a source of scholarly debate. Firm conclusions are difficult to reach; lines from the Eddic poems sometimes appear in poems by known poets. For example, Eyvindr skáldaspillir composed in the latter half of the 10th century, and he uses a couple of lines in his Hákonarmál that are also found in Hávamál . It is possible that he was quoting a known poem, but it is also possible that Hávamál, or at least the strophe in question, is the younger derivative work.
The few demonstrably historical characters mentioned in the poems, such as Attila, provide a terminus post quem of sorts. The dating of the manuscripts themselves provides a more useful terminus ante quem.
Individual poems have individual clues to their age. For example, Atlamál hin groenlenzku is claimed by its title to have been composed in Greenland, and seems so by some internal evidence. If so, it can be no earlier than about 985, since there were no Scandinavians in Greenland until that time.
In some cases, old poems may have been interpolated with younger verses or merged with other poems. For example, stanzas 9–16 of Völuspá , the "Dvergatal" or "Roster of Dwarfs", is considered by some scholars to be an interpolation.
The problem of dating the poems is linked with the problem of determining where they were composed. Iceland was not settled until approximately 870, so anything composed before that time would necessarily have been elsewhere, most likely in Scandinavia. More recent poems, on the other hand, are likely Icelandic in origin.
Scholars have attempted to localize individual poems by studying the geography, flora, and fauna to which they refer. This approach usually does not yield firm results. For example, there are no wolves in Iceland, but we can be sure that Icelandic poets were familiar with the species. Similarly, the apocalyptic descriptions of Völuspá have been taken as evidence that the poet who composed it had seen a volcanic eruption in Iceland – but this is hardly certain.
Poems similar to those found in Codex Regius are also included in many editions of the Poetic Edda. Important manuscripts containing these other poems include AM 748 I 4to, Hauksbók and Flateyjarbók . Many of the poems are also quoted in Snorri's Edda, but usually only in bits and pieces. What poems are included in an edition of the Poetic Edda depends on the editor. Those not found in the Codex Regius are sometimes called the "eddic appendix." Other Eddic-like poems not usually published in the Poetic Edda are sometimes called Eddica minora, and were compiled by Andreas Heusler and Wilhelm Ranisch in their 1903 book titled Eddica minora: Dichtungen eddischer Art aus den Fornaldarsögur und anderen Prosawerken .
English translators are not consistent on the translations of the names of the Eddic poems or on how the Old Norse forms should be rendered in English. Up to three translated titles are given below, taken from the translations of Bellows, Hollander, and Larrington with proper names in the normalized English forms found in John Lindow's Norse Mythology and in Andy Orchard's Cassell's Dictionary of Norse Myth and Legend.
After the mythological poems, Codex Regius continues with heroic lays about mortal heroes, examples of Germanic heroic legend. The heroic lays are to be seen as a whole in the Edda, but they consist of three layers: the story of Helgi Hundingsbani, the story of the Nibelungs, and the story of Jörmunrekkr, king of the Goths. These are, respectively, Scandinavian, German, and Gothic in origin. As far as historicity can be ascertained, Attila, Jörmunrekkr, and Brynhildr actually existed, taking Brynhildr to be partly based on Brunhilda of Austrasia, but the chronology has been reversed in the poems.
Several of the legendary sagas contain poetry in the Eddic style. Its age and importance is often difficult to evaluate but the Hervarar saga , in particular, contains interesting poetic interpolations.
The Elder or Poetic Edda has been translated numerous times, the earliest printed edition being that by Cottle 1797, though some short sections had been translated as early as the 1670s. Some early translators relied on a Latin translation of the Edda, including Cottle.
Opinions differ on the best way to translate the text, on the use or rejection of archaic language, and the rendering of terms lacking a clear English analogue. However Cottle's 1797 translation is considered very inaccurate.
A comparison of the second and third verses (lines 5–12) of the Voluspa is given below :
Ek man jǫtna
( Jónsson 1932 ) (unchanged orthography)
The Jötuns I remember
( Thorpe 1866 )
I remember the Giants born of yore,
( Vigfússon & Powell 1883 ) †
I remember of yore were born the Jötuns,
( Bray 1908 )
I remember yet the giants of yore,
( Bellows 1923 )
I call to mind the kin of etins
( Hollander 1962 )
I tell of Giants from times forgotten.
I remember giants of ages past,
( Terry 1990 )
I, born of giants, remember very early
( Larrington 1996 )
I remember giants
( Dronke 1997 )
I recall those giants, born early on,
( Orchard 2011 )
I remember being reared by Jotuns,
( Dodds 2014 )
I remember giants born early in time
( Larrington 2014 )
I remember the giants
( Crawford 2015 )
|† The prose translation lacks line breaks, inserted here to match those in the Norse verse given in the same work.|
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The Norns are deities in Norse mythology responsible for shaping the course of human destinies.
In Norse mythology, Ragnarök is a series of events, including a great battle, foretold to lead to the death of a number of great figures, natural disasters and the submersion of the world in water. After these events, the world will resurface anew and fertile, the surviving and returning gods will meet and the world will be repopulated by two human survivors. Ragnarök is an important event in Norse mythology and has been the subject of scholarly discourse and theory in the history of Germanic studies.
Hávamál is presented as a single poem in the Codex Regius, a collection of Old Norse poems from the Viking age. The poem, itself a combination of numerous shorter poems, is largely gnomic, presenting advice for living, proper conduct and wisdom. It is considered an important source of Old Norse philosophy.
Vǫluspá is the best known poem of the Poetic Edda. It tells the story of the creation of the world and its coming end and subsequent rebirth, related to the audience by a völva addressing Odin. It is one of the most important primary sources for the study of Norse mythology. The poem is preserved whole in the Codex Regius and Hauksbók manuscripts while parts of it are quoted in the Prose Edda.
In Norse mythology, a valkyrie is one of a host of female figures who choose those who may die in battle and those who may live. Selecting among half of those who die in battle, the valkyries take their chosen to the afterlife hall of the slain, Valhalla, ruled over by the god Odin. There, the deceased warriors become einherjar. When the einherjar are not preparing for the events of Ragnarök, the valkyries bear them mead. Valkyries also appear as lovers of heroes and other mortals, where they are sometimes described as the daughters of royalty, sometimes accompanied by ravens and sometimes connected to swans or horses.
Brunhild, also known as Brunhilda or Brynhild, is a female character from Germanic heroic legend. She may have her origins in the Visigothic princess Brunhilda of Austrasia.
Gudrun or Kriemhild is the wife of Sigurd/Siegfried and a major figure in Germanic heroic legend and literature. She is believed to have her origins in Ildico, last wife of Attila the Hun, and two queens of the Merovingian dynasty, Brunhilda of Austrasia and Fredegund.
Helgi Hundingsbane is a hero in Norse sagas. Helgi appears in Volsunga saga and in two lays in the Poetic Edda named Helgakviða Hundingsbana I and Helgakviða Hundingsbana II. The Poetic Edda relates that Helgi and his mistress Sigrún were Helgi Hjörvarðsson and Sváva of the Helgakviða Hjörvarðssonar reborn. They were once again reborn as Helgi Haddingjaskati and Kára whose story survives as a part of the Hrómundar saga Gripssonar.
"Völsungakviða" or "Helgakviða Hundingsbana I" is an Old Norse poem found in the Poetic Edda. It constitutes one of the Helgi lays, together with Helgakviða Hundingsbana II and Helgakviða Hjörvarðssonar.
Hyndluljóð is an Old Norse poem often considered a part of the Poetic Edda. It is preserved in its entirety only in Flateyjarbók, but some stanzas are also quoted in the Prose Edda, where they are said to come from Völuspá hin skamma. Hyndluljóð is believed to be a relatively late Eddic poem, dating to the second half of the 12th century or later, although including much older traditions, such as that of the 4th c. Gothic king Ermanaric.
Guðrúnarkviða II, The Second Lay of Gudrún, or Guðrúnarkviða hin forna, The Old Lay of Gudrún is probably the oldest poem of the Sigurd cycle, according to Henry Adams Bellows.
Guðrúnarkviða III, The Third Lay of Gudrun, is a short Old Norse poem that is part of the Poetic Edda. It has not left any traces in Völsunga saga and was probably not known by its compilers.
Guðrúnarkviða I, II and III are three different heroic poems in the Poetic Edda with the same protagonist, Gudrun.
"Helgakviða Hjörvarðssonar" is a poem collected in the Poetic Edda, found in the Codex Regius manuscript where it follows Helgakviða Hundingsbana I and precedes Helgakviða Hundingsbana II. The portion of text which constitutes the poem is unnamed in the manuscript and may never have been intended to be viewed as a single poem, though scholars have assigned it a name for convenience. The text appears to be a patchwork of old poems, glued together with prose passages. The poem relates the story of Helgi Hjörvarðsson, loosely connected to the story of Helgi Hundingsbani.
In Norse mythology, Kára is a valkyrie, attested in the prose epilogue of the Poetic Edda poem Helgakviða Hundingsbana II.
A grove of fetters is mentioned in the Eddic poem "Helgakviða Hundingsbana II":
Atlamál in grœnlenzku is one of the heroic poems of the Poetic Edda. It relates the same basic story as Atlakviða at greater length and in a different style. The poem is believed to have been composed in Greenland, most likely in the 12th century. It has 103 stanzas and is the only Eddic poem written entirely in the metre málaháttr.
Sigurðarkviða hin skamma or the Short Lay of Sigurd is an Old Norse poem belonging to the heroic poetry of the Poetic Edda. It is one of the longest eddic poems and its name derives from the fact that there was once a longer Sigurðarkviða, but this poem only survives as the fragment Brot af Sigurðarkviðu.
The Legend of Sigurd and Gudrún is a book containing two narrative poems and related texts composed by J. R. R. Tolkien. It was published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt and HarperCollins on 5 May 2009.
Helgakviða may refer to:
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